Cuban American Voters Remain in GOP Corner

Researchers at UC Riverside and the University of Miami find that despite significant changes in Cuban American attitudes, Democrats are not gaining at the ballot box.

Cuban American attitudes are changing, but voters still support the GOP.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Attitudes of Cuban Americans have undergone significant changes in the last 30 years, driven largely by an influx of immigrants since the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. But those changes are not reflected at the ballot box, nor are they likely to be soon, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Miami.

Cuban American voters have overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates, despite moderating views of U.S. bans on trade with and travel to Cuba, said researchers Benjamin G. Bishin, associate professor of political science at UC Riverside, and Casey A. Klofstad, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami.

Ben Bishin

Their findings are especially significant for GOP presidential candidates in Florida’s primary on Tuesday, and for Democrats and Republicans in the November election.

“Cuban Americans are distinctive among Latinos in their staunch support for the Republican Party,” the researchers wrote in “The Political Incorporation of Cuban Americans: Why Won’t Little Havana Turn Blue?” – a paper that appears in the online edition of the journal Political Research Quarterly. “Cuban Americans routinely vote for Republican presidential candidates at rates exceeding 65 percent, turn out to vote at very high rates compared to other Latinos, and are disproportionately concentrated in Florida, arguably the most important presidential battleground state.”

Bishin and Klofstad analyzed Census, exit polling and other data in Florida – home to nearly 70 percent of all Cuban Americans – over a 20-year period and found that the factors affecting Cuban Americans’ attitudes and voting behavior are more complex than is typically believed.

Among their findings:

  •  Post-Mariel immigrants, who are more progressive on U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba than those who fled immediately following Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, accounted for slightly more than half of foreign-born Cubans in South Florida in the 2008 election; however, 78.6 percent of the Cuban American electorate consisted of pre-Mariel immigrants. About 90 percent of those who immigrated before Mariel are eligible to vote; less than 46 percent of those who immigrated after 1980 are similarly eligible.
  •  Support for the GOP among pre-Mariel immigrants stems from the party’s strong anti-communist stand and a perception that the Democratic Party “has repeatedly bungled U.S. Cuba policy.” The economic success of those immigrants also has made them receptive to GOP pro-business and small-government platforms.
  •  Post-Mariel immigrants were less well off economically in Cuba, are more likely to have close ties to family in Cuba, earn about 50 percent less in the U.S. than pre-Mariel immigrants, and are less likely to have a college degree than pre-Mariel immigrants.
  •  Although the children and grandchildren of the original exiles hold increasingly progressive views on trade with and travel to Cuba, less antipathy toward the Castro regime, and decreased identification with the Republican Party, their upbringing in staunchly Republican households tends to encourage voting the party line. Generational differences will help make the community more progressive with time, but not as quickly as many political analysts have predicted.

“Our results suggest that several trends will affect Cuban Americans’ behavior in the future,” Bishin and Klofstad wrote. “Continued growth in the native-born Cuban American population seems likely to diminish support for the embargo, the travel ban, and Republic candidates. In addition, as the number of more recent immigrants in the electorate slowly increases, the electorate’s views will become more diverse as the most recent (post-1980) immigrants hold the most progressive views on U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba.

“Finally, as the pre-Mariel immigrants age, and ultimately pass away, both the community as a whole and the electorate will increasingly consist of post-Mariel immigrants and the native-born, both of whom hold more moderate views. Consequently, while the community is becoming less extreme, and hence more fertile for Democratic politicians, there is little evidence that a shift is imminent.”

The article available online at prq.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/09/17/1065912911414589.full.pdf+html

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Benjamin Bishin
Tel: (951) 827-4637
E-mail: ben.bishin@ucr.edu

Casey Klofstad
Tel: (305) 284-8861
E-mail: c.klofstad@miami.edu

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